David Baker is an author, speaker, and advisor, offering business insight to firms in the expertise marketplace: marketing, advertising, design, media, management consulting and related disciplines. He is the owner of training and consulting firm ReCourses, Inc. and RockBench Publishing Corp., a traditional and electronic publisher of courageous thought leadership insight. Baker will be speaking at the PRGN Spring 2017 conference about how we all are change agents disguised as agency leaders. We recently caught up with David just before he departed for a family trip to the Amalfi coast off southern Italy.

PRGN:  David, what will central to your presentation on building an agency’s future?David Baker:  Positioning, without a doubt. Most PR firms—and a far higher percentage than other firms under the marketing umbrella—are still interchangeable with each other in the prospect’s eyes. This “service” vs. “expertise” oriented approach leads to more client collaboration and partnering rather than client leadership, and it stops short of the power you’d have in a client relationship to generate a premium for your work. This positioning must come with true expertise where clients put up with all sorts of deficiencies in account service because of it.

PRGN:  Intentionally developing and managing clients in a portfolio manner may be a new concept to some agency heads. Briefly, how does this differ from approaches you more often experience with your client agencies?
David Baker:  It includes these elements:

  1. Knowing very clearly what kind of prospect you want to date before you marry them as a client, and being public about that to avoid a cherished opportunity to compromise, instead letting a prospect self-select themselves out of the running before you get a chance to do that.
  2. Distinguishing carefully between the thinking and the doing that you do for them.
  3. Embracing shorter client relationships where you are compensated and respected as an invading force and not an annoying occupying one.
  4. Ensuring that most of your clients use most of your services most of the time. So you’re crafting those services with that in mind rather than creating a Luby’s Cafeteria of choices.
  5. Putting the right people in charge of client relationships: the right ones grow the account and the others don’t lose the account.
  6. Seeing the client-side departments as your friend and not your enemy. Your job is now to make your agency obsolete and not look for an endowment.
  7. Eschewing the retainer as an old, feeble notion that’s bad for you and bad for them. Nobody else is hanging onto retainers except PR firms and (failing) digital firms.

PRGN:  How can the practices you will be sharing be applied to two or more Network agencies working together to develop business opportunities?
David Baker:  The primary value of a network like PRGN is for the agencies to learn from each other since they trust each other and don’t compete as directly. The public face put on the network is to benefit clients, but it rarely happens. When it does, it’s always one agency leading the charge and pre-identifying another network agency rather than developing those relationships on an ad hoc basis.